Cleto Munari, Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Scarpa

The Cleto Munari Collection: the Design Auction of the Century

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Cleto Munari, Ettore Sottsass and Carlo Scarpa
Cleto Munari was 42 years old in 1972 when he met his 66 year-old mentor, collaborator, and friend, Carlo Scarpa (middle), both seen here with Ettore Sottsass, who’s on the right.

It’s remarkable to think that Cleto Munari has seen as much design history as he has. We say this because his vibrant sensibilities and lively curiosity make the fact that he is 84 years old a surprising one. He’s pictured here, as a young man, with Carlo Scarpa and Ettore Sottsass. If you know anything about design, you recognize those names as iconic; ironically, you may be less likely to know Munari’s name because he has always been the force behind making sure that cutting-edge designs find their way into the marketplace rather than the face associated with the products. This doesn’t mean he’s not a dreamer and a designer, though as he so pointedly told JoAnn Locktov—founder of Bella Figura Communications and a leading light in the social media and public relations arenas—he calls himself neither.

“Many years ago when I met Cleto for the first time, I tried to figure out what he was exactly. A designer? A producer? An impresario? A dreamer? An inventor?” Locktov explains. “I finally just asked him, ‘Cleto, what are you?’ He answered me quickly, not hesitating for a second: ‘I am a poet.’ He may express his ideas with color and shape and material instead of words, but I do believe my friend has the soul of a poet.”
Silver cutlery by Carlo Scarpa for Cleto Munari
A silver cutlery set designed by Carlo Scarpa for Cleto Munari Design Associates is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Munari eats with his set every day. “It is ergonomically perfect and a feast for the eyes,” he says.

Her meeting him is a story in itself: “In 2006, I was celebrating my birthday in Venice with eight American friends and eight Italian friends (it was a big birthday!) and my friend Eric Engstrom discovered that Cleto had worked with Carlo Scarpa. Being a Scarpa fanatic, Eric found the address of Cleto’s studio in Vicenza and all of us Americans went to visit! Can you imagine? Eight Americans up three flights of stairs, knocking on the door of this enchanting studio and being greeted by Cleto amidst the most stunningly designed glass, silver and furniture you could imagine! It was like a museum exhibit that started with the most beautiful Italian design of the seventies (with Scarpa and Sottsass), and continued through Botta, Mendini, Graves, Meier, Hollein, Ho, Malevic, Portoghesi, Palterer, Vieira, Ito, Tusquets and, of course, Cleto’s own magnificent designs. It was like strolling along the architecture walk of fame!”

Andy Warhol Torn Paper portrait of Scarpa
Both Munari and Scarpa met Andy Warhol at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Later, Munari commissioned Warhol to create this torn paper portrait of Scarpa, but the work wasn’t completed until after Scarpa’s death.

Imagine JoAnn’s surprise when she learned last week that Cleto would be putting his personal collection up for auction on April 24 at Pierre Bergé in Brussels. “Work by Scarpa, Sottsass, Palladino, Mendini, and many other architects and artists will be auctioned off,” she remarks. “The Warhol portrait of Scarpa was a revelation to me: I didn’t know it existed! Apparently after Scarpa died, Cleto asked Warhol to paint the portrait in homage to his dear friend. Warhol agreed, using a photo of the lauded architect. I can’t even imagine how many other stories there are, and the fact that Cleto is starting anew at 84 is a clear sign there is no stopping this man!”

For a peek into the literary tastes of the design connoisseur, read his booklist and the interview conducted by Steve Kroeter on his site Designers & Books. If you haven’t visited Designers & Books before—or even if you have—you might want to take some time on the site. It’s a varied survey of what’s on designers’ and architects’ bookshelves. There are offerings aplenty, as Cleto Munari’s picks represent the 99th list posted on the site. Congratulations to Kroeter and managing editor Stephanie Salomon for a job well done when it comes to tapping fascinating creatives to share their insights. We at adroyt have had the pleasure of meeting both of them and hearing about the passion with which they approach their site. Time to curl up and read for a while!

If you are fortunate enough to make it to the auction, we’d love to hear about it firsthand. We’ll be stuck here in social media land: *sigh*! Of course, you don’t have to be in Belgium to acquire these iconic objects d’art, simply bid online!

For a wider variety of images, visit The Curated Object, one of our favorite sites for news about the curated world of the Cleto Munari Collection!

We’re rolling out another installment of Productrazzi for our next post, featuring a groovy re-release of Joe Colombo’s 4801 Armchair by Kartell. We won’t be slighting you, as design visionaries Marcel Wanders and Ron Arad are also in the mix. You know when you see the Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Victoria & Albert Museum in the same post, it’s going to be chock full of provenance!

3 thoughts on “The Cleto Munari Collection: the Design Auction of the Century

  1. Meeting Cleto Munari was a pivotal moment for me. Cleto conjures his design adventures straight from the heart. He challenges poets to design tables, architects to design pens and painters to design carpets. When Mimmo Paladino wanted to have swords thrusting through a surface of glass the question for Cleto was never why, the question was how. Alessandro Mendini was not allowed to design a pen in honor of Toni Morrison until he had read everything she had written. The architects, designers, artists, writers and poets that Cleto has worked with have become his friends and it is easy to see why. He is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for this beautiful reflection of my introduction to the wonderful world of Munari and the remarkable auction that will take place later this month.

  2. Thank you, Saxon and JoAnn for documenting the story of an amazing creative soul. As a devotee of Carlo Scarpa’s amazing architecture and design , I came across a set of beautiful spoons designed by Scarpa on display at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, and proceeded to try to find out more about Cleto Munari who was listed as the manufacturer. This quest led to the visit by JoAnn and me and several friends to Munari’s wonderful studio and showroom in Vicenza. In meeting Munari and experiencing his studio and the art and design produced by many of the 20th century’s finest architects, we were able to understand his role as a collaborator and mentor. Cleto Munari is truly unique – a great designer in his own right, who brings talent together from many sources to create lasting works of beauty and meaning. He deserves a place among the great patrons and artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

  3. I’m glad you both felt the story reflected the experience and gave Cleto the credit he deserves. Thanks for bringing the story to my attention; he’s such an inspiration!

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